Belfast Telegraph

Concerns as Northern Ireland cancer targets missed again

By Claire McNeilly

New figures showing that one-third of cancer patients wait too long for treatment also reveal that targets have not been met for an eighth consecutive year, a leading charity has said.

The latest waiting times published by the Department of Health show that in September last year only 228 patients out of 368 patients (62%) were first treated within 62 days following an urgent GP referral for suspected cancer.

This trails well behind the target figure of 95%, which all five health trusts missed for the quarter. Furthermore, the 95% target, set in 2009, has never been met here.

Margaret Carr, Cancer Research UK's public affairs manager for Northern Ireland, said the length of time it is taking to get treatment is not improving.

"It's extremely disappointing these targets have not been met more than eight years after they were introduced, and the delays are getting worse," she said.

"Some people are waiting too long to find out whether have cancer and for treatment to begin which is hugely distressing for them and their families.

"Health care staff are working in a difficult environment and doing their best for patients. But the lack of an Assembly and Executive means there's no plan of action to transform Northern Ireland's cancer services.

"Patients deserve better. It's crucial a new government in Northern Ireland begins work on a cancer strategy to improve things with the utmost urgency."

Others have also voiced their concern over the latest figures, including Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, whose chief executive Roisin Foster expressed dismay "that ministerial cancer waiting times have yet again not been met".

"This places enormous stress on patients and on their families - waiting and worrying," she said.

"There are particular problems in urology. In September 2017, 140 patients waited longer than 62 days and 50 of these patients were diagnosed with urological cancer.

"For many cancer patients time is of the essence - the earlier cancer is diagnosed and treatment begins, the greater the likelihood of a successful outcome."

Cancer Focus NI also referred to "a marked decline" in the number of women seen within 14 days following an urgent referral for breast cancer.

According to the statistics, this has fallen from almost 96% of patients in 2016 to 75% in 2017.

Mrs Foster pointed out that there were staffing issues to contend with and she stressed there was an ever increasing need for a health minister to be in place.

"We know there are particular difficulties with recruiting staff to key positions in the Southern Trust and other trusts have stepped in to support this service," she said.

"This is causing pressure across the service and points to the need for a health minister to drive forward the necessary reform of our health service and for a development of an up to date cancer strategy for best possible delivery of cancer services."

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